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Selling Wine in Mason Jars

I’m holding a bottle of wine it's taken me almost sixty years to make. I pull the cork and pour a few ounces into a more-or-less clean Mason jar. It seems we are going back in time.

Decades ago, when I was building a new fine wine distribution company, I would take winemakers that are now wine legends - Angelo Gaja, Dominique Lafon, Josh Jensen, Tony Soter, Cathy Corison, Richard Sanford and others around Chicago, where we would pour samples of their wines into small plastic cups and try to convince buyers to give these newcomers a shot. Needless to say, those buyers never got a glimpse of the true greatness of these wines and winemakers out of those little plastic cups.

Fast forward from the 1980's to 2017 and selling great wine is a lot more glamorous, right? Sharing your wines with the sommelier at Castagna or Nostrana could not be more pleasurable - if you make good wine that is. Yet, all to often, we've not progressed beyond those pitiful little plastic cups.

In states that allow both distributors and retailers to sell wine and spirits, the profits from spirits make their cash flow work. These profits from quick, large-margin spirit sales are the lifeblood of large liquor stores, which give them the opportunity to build broad, but slower selling wine selections. In states like Oregon, where spirits sales are ridiculously limited to state controlled “liquor stores” that means amazing wine and spirits stores like K&L, Binny’s and Zacky's cannot exist. In state controlled Oregon, grocery stores have a significant advantage over wine-only shops as they have many other products to give them the cash flow required to support the inventory in their wine department - just like full-service liquor stores in other states.

This means that I spend a lot of time in Oregon selling wine to grocery store buyers. While tasting wines with buyers in the back room of a grocery store out of old Libby glasses may not have the panache of sampling your wines in Riedel on white tablecloths it's just as important to your sales. Also, most of these grocery store buyers are just as serious as any sommelier. They too are passionate to find wines that their customers will love. Also, like a sommelier, they are out on the front lines and if the customer does not like a wine they are just as likely to blame them as to blame the winery.

It's not a bad system. Or, at least it used to be not a bad system. Fine wine and corporations do not mix well and management at some important Oregon chains are taking their local buyers out of the game and sending them home with Mason jars of wine in their backpacks.

No longer can you taste your wines with these buyers. You go into the back room, among the storage shelves of dog food and canned goods and pour your samples into well used Mason jars or some other even less glamorous receptacle. You pour your wines into old jars or bottles as the buyers are no longer permitted to taste wines on the job. Which, as that is a big part of their job seems, well for lack of a better word, stupid.

We go to a lot of work to be sure our wines are presented and sold in the proper condition. Pouring them into a Mason jar that is then tossed into a backpack, that may spend time in a hot car or that then may not be tasted for days is not fair to us or the final consumer. Grocery chains should treat both their wine buyers and the wines they buy with more respect considering the significant profit they generate for these corporations.

Next time you buy a wine in a grocery store you don't enjoy, please don't blame the wine buyer. The wine they tasted from that Mason jar after it had sloshed around in their backpack while they rode home on their bike on one of those one-hundred degree days last week probably did not taste much like the bottle of wine you took home.

In thirty years we've graduated from plastic cups to Mason jars. A long way, baby, we've not come.

Net Benefits

There can be no doubt that the Internet and the new power of social networking has made the level information available to wine consumers almost incomprehensible. When I think of what is available today compared to when I started learning about wine it is astounding.

I can’t think of a better example of this information bonanza than Bill Nanson’s Burgundy Report. Nanson passionately and precisely covers that most difficult of wine regions and it’s all free. If you follow Bill’s recommendations you will never doubt the greatness of Burgundy again.

Another gift of the Internet for wine lovers is the rise of small, dedicated online retailers that offer selections based on their own palates rather than someone else’s. In other words, they’re real wine merchants in the old sense. Two examples of this new type of retailer are Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman from wine blogger Catie McIntyre Walker and Domaine 547 from yet another blogger, Jill Bernheimer. Catie is offering small production Walla Walla wines that you’re unlikely to find outside the Northwest and Jill is creating a new type of wine retailer that, while she ships nationwide, has also developed a loyal local following to whom she delivers direct.

Innovators like these are making real cracks in the American three tier distribution system (of which the traditional wine press is often a silent fourth tier) and educating consumers on wines that they would never hear about as big American distributors, press and retailers just aren’t interested in them. If you are seeking distinctive, small producer wines, writers and retailers like these are where to look.

Spoofulated: Wine Blogging Wednesday

wbwlogo It’s Wine Blogging Wednesday and hosts Erin and Michelle of The Grape Juice Blog have chosen the letter “S”, with a tip of the hat to Sesame Street, as the topic of the day. Immediately I thought of one of today’s hottest wine topics: Spoofulation.

Alice Feiring rages against the machine. Natural wines are the only wines. The problem is, of course, is that no one agrees on what natural wines are. There are natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainable growers and winemakers, but not one definition of what is natural wine exits. Except, of course, for Alice’s and she is sure she is right. The term that has arisen to describe over-manipulated wines is spoofulation, but is spoofulation the opposite of Alice’s version of natural wines? I don’t think so. There are many wines that would not meet Alice’s requirements that are clearly not spoofulated.

spoof in spoof out What is spoofulation? That now ingrained term, to me, more than anything else, refers to wines of excess: excessive concentration, excessive oak, excessive alcohol and minimal terroir and varietal character. Spoofulated wines are wines that could come from anywhere and any variety. By my definition that does not mean that un-spoofulated wines have to be “natural” or “organic” or “biodynamic”, but without a doubt it appears to help. The reason I say they don’t have to be any of those things is because I have tasted many wines over the decades that not only did not employ these disciplines. but never heard of them. There are many wines from the 60’s that are pretty damn good and I assure you they never thought of such things. They worked with what they had and what they knew and used things in their vineyards that would cause outrage today.

Spoofulation, much like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, is something I know when I taste it. Spoofulated wines throw balance over the side in a headlong pursuit of points. It is an approach I can understand as wine producers have to make a living like any other farmer. Points from the Pontiffs sell wines to hoards of consumers who drink wine more often without food than with it. The point of spoofulated wines is to grab enough attention in a ten second taste to get a good review and to prevent the consumer from having any more thoughts about the wine, so they can return to their conversation. Spoofulation cannot be defined as “big wines” or “high alcohol wines” or anything other than wines that erase any individual character in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Spoofulation is to wine what religion was to Karl Marx.

Spoofulation is so much a part of today’s wine vocabulary that a debate has begun on the etymology of the term. Joe Dressner, the importer, whose portfolio is spoofulated wine-free, recently reported on the birth of the term spoofulation on his blog, The Wine Importer, where he recounts the debate over how the word was coined by Harmon Skurnik of the extraordinary importer and distributor Michael Skurnik Wines in New York and Michael Wheeler, formerly of Michael Skurnik Wines and now of that extraordinary importer and distributor in New York, Polaner Selections. Please be prepared to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek as you read this post.

In the last few years we have welcomed a new word beginning with the letter “S” into our wine vocabulary. Now we have to work on defining it.

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Image above from Appellation America

Scott Paul Selections: Pure Pinot

scott%20paul.jpgPeople tell me it’s too confusing to buy European wines because of the myriad of place names. No place is worse than Burgundy when it comes to putting forth a seemingly impenetrable wave of place names and producers. When I hear this complaint I always suggest that people pay attention to the back label instead of the front. On the back label is the name of the importer who selected and shipped the wine. The name of the importer is a sure-fire indicator of the quality of the wine in the bottle. There are many names that, when I see them on the label, inspire me to try the wine. People like Rebecca Wasserman, Robert Chadderdon, Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, Rudy Wiest and Joe Dressner (Louis/Dressner) have guided me towards outstanding wines from all of Europe’s important regions for years.

Now it appears there is another name to add to the list. Scott Paul Wright of Scott Paul Selections has been quietly assembling an outstanding portfolio of Burgundy estates that produce classic, purely styled pinot noir and chardonnay wines. A tasting of Wright’s selections will explain the concept of terroir to any doubter. Those familiar with Oregon wines will also recognize the Scott Paul name from his excellent winery based in Carlton Oregon where he strives to make elegant pinot noir inspired by his love of Burgundy. If you wonder why Scott didn’t call his winery Scott Wright instead of Scott Paul, you might remember there’s another outstanding winery and a winemaker named Ken in Carlton already using the Wright name.

I have been tasting with pleasure his selections over the last two years and just attended a compelling tasting of some of his current releases.

  • Chablis Grande Vignes, Frédéric Gueguen, 2006 - Classic Chablis with a firm, tight minerality and a long, clean stony finish. While 06’s are considered more forward than normal for Chablis due to the warm vintage this wine will benefit from a few more years of bottle age. A real bargain. ($23)
  • Puligny Montrachet, Philippe Chavy, 2005 - Blended from four lieu dits vineyards of medium, but mature age. Thankfully the Domaine uses only 20 to 30% new oak so the complexity of the chardonnay grown in these fine vineyards can show through. Still lean and immature, this excellent Puligny displays all the best attributes of this commune. Clean, firm and mineral laden throughout, this will be an very good wine in about five years. ($48)
  • Meursault Charmes, 1er Cru, Hospices de Beaune, Cuvée Bahèzre de Lanlay,  2005 - Purchased at the Hospices de Beaune auction by Wright, this is a big, oaky (100% new) viscous chardonnay that will be well-liked by those more experienced with California Chardonnay rather than Burgundy. Despite all the oak, it is still a very good wine, but I don’t see it as something to cellar. ($55)
  • Chambolle Musigny, Les Sentiers, 1er Cru,  A. & H. Sigaut, 2005 - All the luxurious, delicious, supple pinot character that you expect from the Chambolle Musigny commune, which Wright unabashedly declares as his first love in Burgundy. The color is perfect pinot, rich and dark, but still completely translucent. The bouquet is perfumed and silky reaching your nose long before the glass is even close to it.  While ripe and substantial on the palate, it is still lively and zesty with a wonderful undercurrent of acidity elevating and enlivening the sweet fruit and textures. The finish is long and satisfyingly laced with smoothly textured tannins that promise many years of development. Certainly a wine that should be allowed to see at least its tenth birthday. An outstanding pinot noir. ($72)
  • Pommard, Réyane & Pascal Bouley, 2004 (tasted with dinner after the tasting and then with lunch the following day) Yet another 04 Burgundy requiring more time. At first a bit off from what I thought was a bit of reduction so I put the bottle away for the next day. At Easter lunch the following day the wine was lovely, but delicate. This, like most 04’s are Burgundy for Burgundy lovers. Those used to the more obvious charms of New World pinot will find them perhaps too delicate, but those seeking complexity instead of power will be pleased. Let another five years pass to give this wine a chance to open. If you are going to drink now an hour or two in a decanter will improve your experience. ($48)
  • Pommard, Platièries, Thierry Violot-Guillemard, 2005 - Perfectly lovely light ruby color that is quite translucent. Richly smoky with a dark, brooding black fruit character that is not prepared to show itself yet. Very structured and tannic at this point, as you would expect from a Pommard, this is a wine that not only requires, but demands significant aging to show its considerable potential. Somewhere around 2015 this should be an excellent wine. ($54)
  • Mazoyères Chambertin, Grand Cru, Taupenot-Merme, 2005 - As good as the other wines were, here you reach a new level. This is a wine that will show any Burgundy critic the error of their ways. Simply a stunning interplay of power and elegance, this is an extraordinary pinot noir. The complexity and terroir exhibited by this wine will keep New World pinot noir winemakers up at night wondering if they can ever achieve such wine. All baby fat and young tannin at this point, you can feel the rumbling greatness that will rise in this wine with time. The aromas and flavors are velvety and exotic with touches of smoky oak and bittersweet chocolate. This is another wine that should not be opened before 2015. ($110)
  • Romanée St. Vivant, Grand Cru, J.J. Confuron, 2004 - Following a flashy 05 Grand Cru is not an easy position for a 2004, even one as good as this wine. The 04’s seem closed and lean now as they have yet to awaken from the “dumb” stage all natural Burgundy passes through on its journey to maturity. This and the natural lean character of the 04 vintage make this a wine easy to underestimate and I think that would be a mistake. While lacking the power of the Mazoyères Chambertin I think it does not lack in complexity or character. Despite its tightness, the flowery fruit is spiced with a touch of bittersweet orange zest. This is another wine that demands rather than suggests aging. The price should be enough to get most consumers to treat it with such needed respect. This is not a wine for Burgundy novices, but experienced collectors will love it. ($225)

 

Coteaux Costco

costco champagne 016 I just tossed almost fifty bucks down the toilet. It’s my fault, I should have known better, but as they say, a sucker is born every minute. Today that sucker was me.

I ventured into Costco to buy big chunks of food to prepare for some events where a lot of very hungry people would be “consuming mass quantities” and, while on my way to the food department, passed the wines. I could not resist taking a spin to see what was what. There it was, their private label French Champagne, under the elegant Kirkland label, going for only $22 a bottle. I mean, how bad could it be? It was real French Brut Champagne and had been selected by a real M.W. named D.C. Flynt. I guess being an M.W. is not what it used to be.

How bad could it be? The answer is pretty bad. First of all there was the ugly brown color, followed by the the insipid taste and oxidized aromas. On top of that, it didn’t even have many bubbles left. In my opinion, this is one of the worst rip-offs I have ever tasted and don’t understand how any reputable merchant can sell such a wine. You would be better off with a bottle of $6 Spanish Cava than this terrible wine. No, that’s not a glass of Fino Sherry pictured here, it’s a glass of Kirkland Champagne about to be poured down the drain.

Perhaps this was a decent wine when our M.W., D.C. Flynt selected it, but somewhere along the way I think this wine has been so abused by bad storage and bad shipping conditions that it’s certainly not worth $22 a bottle or, for that matter, $2 a bottle.

I was a sucker because I let myself be conned into buying a wine from Costco. If you buy wine from a store where not a soul in the store has a clue about the wines their selling you get what you deserve. I got two bottles of undrinkable Champagne and I deserved it. Costco tosses in some famous names to make themselves look like a serious wine merchant and a lot of people get taken in by this ploy. For example they were selling wines like 2004 Ducru Beaucaillou today, but you have to ask yourself how those stacked up bottles were treated before you lay them down for a decade only to find out that, like me, you were a sucker too.

I can’t think of a worse place to buy wine than Costco.

Costco: Fine Wine Merchant :)

Linda, a Wine Camp Blog reader, recently sent me this email about “corky” wines and Costco:

“Hi Craig.  I read your interesting article about corky wine on the web and I hope you will give me some advice.  I recently purchased a bottle of Cavit Pinot Grigio at Costco which turned out to be corky.  When I returned it to Costco here in Georgia (I had my receipt), the manager said that he would let me do a “one-time courtesy return” and made a notation on my account.  Here in Georgia we can return a bad bottle but only in exchange for the same brand, and that rule is fine by me.  He said that they store the wines properly and that there was cork in the bottle and that was why it was corky, implying that I had not opened the bottle properly.  I have had over 30 years as a flight attendant working in first class and am quite accustomed to opening a bottle of wine as well as recognizing a musty, corky odor.   I am quit aggravated with his “one-time courtesy return” and would ask your advice on how to return a bottle should this happen again. ”

I see two mistakes here, first buying wine at Costco and secondly buying Cavit Pinot Grigio. Fortunately your bottle of Cavit was corked, meaning it actually had a flavor - as usually it’s tasteless.

The ignorant response of the manager is inexcusable and highlights why Costco is a bad place to buy wine. The manager clearly had no idea, interest nor training on a product in his store.  People buy wine at Costco as they think they are getting good buys when all they are getting is commercial plonk that has  bribed their way onto their shelves.

I often shop at Costo for toilet paper and such, but never buy wine there becaus they sell boring wines that are bad values at any price. A trip to any real fine wine retailer will get you many more wine bargains. You may not have heard of the brand, but the wines will taste better than anything you’ll get at Costco and not cost you a penny more.

Grower Fizz: too sexy for its flute

clicquotpaintbox_large.jpgEverybody in the room quickly emptied their flutes when they saw the cork popped from the bottle with the yellow label. After all, what was better than Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Not that any of the other bottles of Champagne were bad, after all, what wine region in the world had a higher across-the-board quality than the Champagne region of France?

Unfortunately this New Year’s Eve Party was twenty-five years ago and the world of Champagne has changed. Perhaps no other wine reflects the decline in quality in big name Champagne as much as Veuve Clicquot, that has gone from being a richly flavored wine to a thin, flavorless beverage with fizz as its only character that is available in endless quantities that are piled high in grocery stores throughout the country. At prices pushing $40 a bottle, I can think of few worse wine deals. Big brand French Champagnes have become the worst values in the world of sparking wines. Few offer more than a vague aspirin flavor to accompany their famous bubbles. Better values and quality than big brand Champagne are to found in sparking wines from Spain, Italy, California, Oregon and Australia. Sure Krug, Salon and Bollinger still make great wines, but the big names like Clicquot, Mumm’s, Möet, Piper don’t. Following the lead of the perfume industry they invest more in marketing than character.

Oddly enough, while we have hit the dark ages for big brand Champagne, we now entering a new golden age for the  Champagne region that is now producing  many wines of greater individual character than any conceived by the Grande Marque Champagne houses. This grand new era for the Champagne region is the emergence of the récoltant manipulant (R.M.) or grower produced Champagne. There has been an explosion of producers bottling wine from their own vineyards and the myriad of styles and the quality of wine they are producing is nothing short of thrilling. None of these producers will be hosting  parties at expensive Manhattan discos or will become the status symbols for any rap artists, but if you care about the wine in the bottle more than the glossy ads - these are the wines for you.

The hard part is that because these producers are quite small, especially compared to the millions of cases produced by the big brands,  finding and learning about them takes a bit more effort. To get a list of recommendations of grower Champagnes not to be missed I knew there was only one place to go, so I wrote to Roberto Rogness, the wine director of Santa Monica’s Wine Expo. Wine Expo (2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica CA 90404 - 310-824-4428) is a store I have written about often for offering an incredible selection of terroir driven wines of great distinction. Wine Expo features two things: Italian wine and grower Champagnes. This combination makes it one of my favorite places on the planet. While the Field of Dreams for the baseball fan may be in Iowa, for the wine nut looking for real wines it’s in Santa Monica. The ever passionate Roberto (wineexpo@earthlink.net), whom I consider one of the few experts on this new generation of Champagne producers, replied to my request not with a list, but with a complete article about his current offerings of what he calls “grower’s fizz”. Loathe to edit Roberto’s list or his famed tasting notes, I present it to you here in its entirety. Please note that Roberto’s first comment to me was, “Hard to narrow it down but here are some real gems” gives you an idea of the extent of their selections. I have never tasted a wine recommended by Roberto that was not exciting to drink and assure you that you will find that energy in all of these recommendations.

“Grower Fizz” Recommendations from Roberto Rogness 

Champagne Andre Robert, Le Mesnil-Oger
A. Robert Cuvée Séduction Brut Grand Cru $46.99
Stunning! Bone dry with intense mineral and citrus notes, the Blanc de Blancs may be the perfect aperitif fizz and are sure to be a big hit with your guests. The Cuvée Séduction earns it name and then some
with big rich textures and flavors: 70% Chardonnay from Oger meets 30% Pinot Noir from Vertus, gets femented in small oak and emerges too sexy for its flute.
L. Aubry Fils, Jouy-les-Reims
One of our favorite additions to our list of super star Grower Champagne producers is really something special: not only do they still “draw inspiration from the characteristics of 18th century Champagnes” with super creamy mousse at slightly less pressure and an emphasis on aromatics drawn from the vineyards over yeastiness, they also are the ONLY producers in Champagne still growing the ancient and exotic varieties Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Fromenteau which are still approved for the AOC but are virtually nonexistent today. And they take Rosé seriously. AND, they are great value for money!
L. Aubry Premier Cru Brut Tradition à Jouy-les-Reims $39.00
A VERY different sort of fizz made with 50% Meunier (a black grape with spicy, herbal, even pumpernickel notes), fattened up with older vintage Pinot Noir then frosted over with 25% ultra ripe Chardonnay. Responds well to hearty, full flavored food, improvise.
Cuvée Nicolas Francois Aubry Premier Cru Brut Sable Rosé 2000 à Jouy-les-Reims $76.00
We agree heartily with the importer’s assertion that “I love pink Champagne and sometimes even wonder how seductions ever proceed without it”. The Aubry brothers are VERY serious about their Rosés, producing two completely different cuvées. The NV is made with 60% Chardonnay for superb finesse and drinkability then given a firm kick in the ass by Pinot Noir left on the skins for color, heft, verve and flavors ranging from ripe peaches and blackberries through menthol and pine into a rich biscuity finish. Superb! The Sable is almost a Cremant (super smooth and lower in pressure) and is more delicate in flavor with citrus and spice notes.
L. Aubry “Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites” 1998 à Jouy-les-Reims $66.00
A wildly aromatic blend of Fromenteau (which is a clone of Pinot Gris / Grigio!), Arbanne and Petit Meslier, grapes you are ALLOWED to grow in Champagne but which no one wants to bother with any more. This truly dances to the beat of a different blocco and is incredible with pate or smoked fish starters.
L. Aubry Premier Cru Brut 1997 Aubry de Humbert à Jouy-les-Reims $73.00
Deeeeeply flavored, made from the heart of the cuvée and only disgorged after six years on the lees, this fairly explodes with complex secondary flavors of dried fruit, almonds, ginger, coffee and
even truffles. Very limited.

H. Billiot Brut Réserve Grand Cru à Ambonnay $48.00
H. Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru à Ambonnay $54.00
H. Billiot Brut 1998 Grand Cru à Ambonnay $61.00
H. Billiot Cuvée Laetitia Brut Grand Cru à Ambonnay $83.00
H. Billiot Cuvée Julie Brut Grand Cru à Ambonnay $79.99

Henri Billiot is to Champagne what Emidio Pepe is to Montepulciano or the late M. Reynaud was to Chateauneuf du Pape: The Keeper of the Secrets of the Temple of the Elders. His wines (even the NV Brut!) are 100% Grand Cru (mostly) Pinot Noir from ancient vines that are never filtered or put through malolactic fermentation and thus have an amazing verve and intensity that can either stop you in your tracks right now or age for decades. So you’d best stock up for both scenarios! Unlimited quality, extremely limited availability. Ranked by aficionados in France and Britain as an equal to Krug and Bollinger, these are jaw dropping, life-changing, show-stopping wines with amazing complexity. The Laetitia is named for his lovely daughter and contains the best of eight different vintages reaching back to 1983! Cuvée Julie is a new offering named for a granddaughter that spent 7 months in old oak for richness.

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut à Merfy $39.00
Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut à Merfy $25.99 375ml
Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut à Merfy $96.99 MAGNUM
Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Blanc de Blancs à Merfy $45.00
Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Fiacre Taillet Brut à Merfy $66.00

WINE Magazine (a very serious British journal) ranked these wines among its “Best You Can Buy”, raving about “luscious, creamy, supple and sensual” flavors and textures and ranking the Cuvée Sainte-Anne NV first in a comprehensive tasting that included such famous but industrial labels as Dom Perignon. Huge, creamy, toasty wines, these are bold declarations of style made by a very confident husband and wife team who are obsessed with making WINE that also bubbles. The Fiacre (60% Chardonnay / 40% Pinot Noir, all from very old vines) is described by the importer as “the swankest Champagne I offer” and our buddy Tom Stevenson (the final authority amongst fizz scribes in the English language) extols its extraordinary “polish”. Flavors range from gunflint, white flowers and heather through super ripe white fruits all balanced on an incredibly refreshing spike of minerals and acidity.
To Quote Chrissy Hynde: This is SPECIAL: Guy de Chassey Brut Grand Cru 1996, Louvois $59.00
This blew our minds while dining with the importers at Josie on Pico one night: it smells EXACTLY like Rosé petals, tastes like green apples and white pears, is creamier than Sicilian gelato yet has a crisp, bone dry finish. Get some before Ali takes it all home….You work hard, you deserve the GOOD stuff. This can either clear some sushi off your palate tonight or age for twenty years, your call. Also don’t miss their base (but hardly basic!) bottling:

Pierre Gimonnet Brut Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru Cuis $42.00
Pierre Gimonnet Brut Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru Cuis $24.99 375ml
Pierre Gimonnet Gastronome 2000 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant et Chouilly $47.00
Pierre Gimonnet Fleuron 1999 Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant et Chouilly $53.00
P. Gimonnet Oenephile Extra-Brut 1er Cru Bl. de Blancs 1998, Cramant et Chouilly $54.00
Pierre Gimonnet Special Club 1998 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant et Chouilly $62.00

These are wines worthy of consideration by the snootiest White Burgundy fan: 100% Chardonnay from vines ranging from 40 to 80 years in age producing intense reductive flavors of lanolin, flint, almonds and honey suspended in a hugely textured mouthfeel. The Cuvée Gastronome has a little lower pressure to make it more food friendly while The Extra Brut could be sparkling Corton Charlemagne, don’t chill it too much as it has a lot to say.

Bruno Gobillard Champagne Vieilles Vignes, Pierry $67.99
Bruno Gobillard Champagne Vieilles Vignes 1998, Pierry $142.00 MAGNUM

Just HOW good is this Champagne? Well, we were once having dinner with the importer and the agents of Camille Savese, Jose Dhondt and Raymond Boulard and were adamantly telling them “We have enough different Champagnes already, we CAN’T take any new ones this year!” but they poured this with the Blue Crab Spring Rolls and somehow we found ourselves DEMANDING that they give us the lion’s share of the mere 20 cases destined for the US. If you imagine an old fashioned cream soda made out of perfectly ripe pears, fragrant apple blossoms AND the pure minerality of the chalk beds underlying this famous suburb of Epernay you’d be on your way to getting your mind around this stuff. The incredibly fine mousse, and endless echoing finish will make a serious impact on your guests or any giftee. VERY limited
Jean Lallement et Fils Brut Grand Cru à Verzenay $45.00
Jean Lallement et Fils Brut Cuvée Réserve Grand Cru à Verzenay $57.00

These performed way “out of class” in several recent tastings and are very limited as M. Lallement has a mere 4.5 hectares of vineyards. The wines are fermented with natural ambient yeasts, are never filtered and are given so little dosage that the importer calls them “militantly dry, martial law in a glass, powerhouse Champagnes with fresh hay and mineral noses, there is nothing else remotely like them”. The DRIEST Champagnes we offer!

Jean Milan Brut Carte Blanche, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Oger $42.00
Jean Milan Brut Speciale Selection, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Oger $44.00
Jean-Charles Milan Cuvée de Réserve Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Oger $54.00
Jean Milan Brut Cuvée Symphorine 1998, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Oger $60.00
Jean Milan Brut Selection “Terres de Noel” Selection 2000, Grand Cru Oger $72.00
Jean Milan Charles de la Milaniere Rosé Grand Cru Ambonnay $62.00

Absolutely terroir—ist facsimiles of the chalky-pencil lead soil of Oger glazed with the deepest most complex fruit imaginable. The Carte Blanche is fluffy and frothy, “let’s have a drink” fizz while the Special Selection is much rier and more minerally. The Jean-Charles Réserve is fermented in oak for a creamier texture. The Terres di Noel and Cuvée Symphorine are made from separate plots of very old vines producing a ha-uuuuuuge mouthfeel that expands for literally minutes with buttery, toasty, “I didn’t know they made sparkling Montrachet” flavors and textures. The Rosé is made from fruit they vinify for friends with Grand Cru holdings in Ambonnay and is so rare
as to be nearly non-existent. And then there is this:
Jean Milan Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Sec “Tendresse”, Oger $47.99
Hey, you…yeah, YOU! Wanna get lucky? Then this is the one you want: rich, smooth, round, perfect with fresh strawberries, chocolate, a care package from Victoria’s Secret…use your imagination. Finally, a truly high quality off-dry (no, we’re actually going to say it: SWEET!) Champagne that’s the perfect thing with breakfast in bed, dessert, sunsets, fireplaces and long French kisses. A public service from your friends at WINE EXPO

Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru le Mesnil $102.00 MAGNUM
Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru le Mesnil $45.00
Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru le Mesnil $25.99 375ml
Pierre Peters Brut 1998 Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru le Mesnil $65.00
Pierre Peters Brut 1998 Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Special Grand Cru leMesnil $72.00
Pierre Peters Brut 1999 Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Special Grand Cru leMesnil $151.00 MAGNUM

We must defer to importer Terry Theise (who can spin prose that makes
even our stream of consciousness screeds look like The Wall Street Journal) who says: “The wines I’d tasted from several small growers in Mesnil had a certain distilled exquisiteness, as if the prettiest and finest essence of Chardonnay had been skimmed like sweet cream. But these wines were eye-poppingly vivid and distinct, impeccable and gleamingly firm, like diamonds.” Perhaps the single greatest artist working in Chardonnay based fizz, M. Peters’ wines are simply mindblowing: insanely complex crystalline encapsulations of both the unique terroir of Champagne’s greatest white wine vineyard and his fanatical attention to detailing every nuance of the fruit. Aside
from the wine, the packaging is some of the most elegant in Champagne, perfect for gifts.

Camille Savès Brut Carte Blanche Premier Cru à Bouzy $49.00
Camille Savès Brut Carte Blanche Premier Cru à Bouzy $27.99 375ml
Camille Savès Brut Grand Cru à Bouzy $60.00
Camille Savès Brut Grand Cru à Bouzy $147.00

As tired a cliché as it seems, these literally DANCE on your palate: they are the most physically active Champagnes we have ever encountered, powered by 100% Pinot Noir from Bouzy (the heart of the beast for Pinot Fizz).
Camille Saves Brut Millesime 2000 Grand Cru Bouzy en Magnum $147.00/ 1.5 liter
Wow! This will teleport you directly to the Oh! My! Gawd! Zone in one quick sip. Direct from the heart of the beast, Bouzy, a village in la Champagne producing perhaps the ripest and most complex Pinot Noir of
all the Grand Crus, this just melted our hearts on the first taste. VERY limited, worth it.

Varnier-Fanniere Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Avize $50.00
Varnier-Fanniere Cuvée Saint Denis Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Avize $56.00
Varnier-Fanniere Grand Vintage Brut 1997 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Avize $66.00

At a Champagne dinner our good friend Sang Yoon, a self confessed”champagne freak”, the proprietor of Santa Monica landmark Father’s Office and a way serious Chef besides (ex Spago, Chinois and Michael’s among others), was expounding on how these amazingly complex and minerally bubblies are “everything I look for in great Champagne”. That’s good enough for us, taste and believe….

Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Grand Cellier Brut à Rilly $59.99 BIODYNAMIC
Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Grand Cellier d’Or Brut à Rilly $67.99 BIODYNAMIC
Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée 1997 Brut à Rilly $110.00 BIODYNAMIC
Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Grand Cellier Rubis Brut Rosé à Rilly $95.00 BIODYNAMIC
Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Creation Brut 1997 à Rilly $100.00 BIODYNAMIC
Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée 1992 Brut à Rilly $225.00 MAGNUM BIODYNAMIC

Tom Stevenson’s standard reference to Champagne raves that “…the Vilmart range begins at brilliant and just keeps getting better.” The importer is “…absolutely certain that you will freak over these…drink them when they’re ready and great chambers won’t be able to contain your freaking!” The grapes are bio-dynamically cultivated, painstakingly selected at harvest then every drop is barrel fermented in the grand tradition of Krug and Bollinger with
stunning results and are every bit as age-worthy. The owner professes “we do wine first then we do Champagne”! The Coeur de Cuvée is the top of the line from a producer who has been heralded as making “one of the three greatest Champagnes of the last 25 years” by Stevenson (the other two were Krug). This intense wine is known amongst French collectors as “The Poor Man’s Kru
g”.

At What "Cost"

costco_wine_3.jpgThe nation’s largest wine retailer, how could I not go? Armed with a new membership card from my company I entered Costco. The size lives up to the reputation. What didn’t live up to the hype was the wine. Me and my gigantic shopping cart circled the wine section ready to stock up on the fabled bargains. I left without buying a bottle . The most exciting wine offered was Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, which is hardly a hard wine to find and not a very stimulating wine to drink.

There indeed is a sucker born every minute, because everyone else was packing their carts with bottles from Costco. There were no hot wines there,  just the same industrial crap that fills the aisles at most grocery stores. Were they cheaper? Who cares. These are wines not to buy.

While reading my Sunday paper I grabbed the Cost Plus ad. In the ad were such fine choices as Wrondo Dongo Mourvedre, Red Guitar, 7 Deadly Zins and Sin Zin. Cute names, but bad wines. Great prices? Sure enough, but who cares.

There can be no more reliable indicator of over-manipulated, industrial wines, that are the worst wine values in the world, than the regular wine selections of these “Cost” stores. In these stores you’ll find a list of wines to avoid. The wine buyers for these stores must be lazy, for there is no excuse in offering such mediocrity in an era that is producing better and better wines at lower and lower prices.  They certainly have no creativity or passion for the product that they buy.

What is the  “Cost”  that the buying power and marketing power of such mega-stores have on the industry? They don’t cost the industry a thing, but they cost the consumers a lot. If you want a good wine value avoid these “Cost” stores. Costco and Cost Plus and their brethren are to wine what McDonald’s is to hamburgers.

WBW #24 Loire Whites: Domaines Louis/Dressner

wbwlogo_6_small.jpgI was thrilled when Alder Yarrow of Vinography, this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday host, selected white Loire wines as the topic for WBW #24. After all, these are some of my very favorite wines. For example there are the stunning wines from producers like Domaine de la Pépière and Luneau-Papin in Muscadet or the Coteaux-du-Layon & Quarts-de-Chaume from Château Pierre-Bise and the Anjou from Mark Angéli of Domaine de la Sansonnière or the Savennières from Domaine du Closel and the Sancerre la Garenne from Fernand Girard.

As gorgeous as these wines are they are relatively obscure to most wine consumers, which is a sad fact as Muscadet is easily the best value white wine available. The Loire makes wines from a long list of grape varietals thought of as second class by the average wine buyer. Chenin blanc, caberent franc, sauvignon blanc, melon (muscadet), gamay, côt (malbec) just don’t seem as regal as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir to most wine drinkers and, for that matter, most wine writers. On top of that, names like Coteaux-du-Layon and Savennières don’t make good sound bites for marketers. This means not many Americans are pulling corks from bottles of Loire wines and this is truly a shame.

louisdressner.jpgAll the producers listed above make extraordinary wines, but they also have one other thing in common - they are all imported by Louis/Dressner. If you want to drink an exceptional white (or red or rosé for that matter) Loire wine you don’t have to remember any unfamiliar place names, you only have to look for the Louis/Dressner label on the bottle and you are guaranteed to find an outstanding wine that perfectly reflects the character of the place it was grown.

Last evening I immensely enjoyed a Louis/Dressner selection, 2005 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet, Clos des Briords, a single vineyard wine produced from old vines. This wine was nothing short of exceptional with an almost electric minerality and precision. While certainly drinkable now, those who can wait a few years will be well rewarded. By the way, this exciting wine put me back a whopping $10.99.

Joe Dressner, famed internet personality and partner in Louis/Dressner, is as intense and focused as this Muscadet and has assembled the finest portfolio of Loire wines available in the USA. Anyone seeking to experience these wines at their best should seek out his selections. Incidentally, his wines from other French regions are equally compelling. 

On my last trip to New York I ordered a bottle of  2002 Savennières from Domaine du Closel. After a confused look from my waiter, it took them about a half hour to find the bottle at the back of the cooler. Apparently it had been a while since anyone ordered a bottle. It was delicous and a relative bargain, but it looks like Joe has a lot more missionary work to do before Savennières becomes a household name.

Rebecca Wasserman

I was looking for a good bottle of Champagne, but, in all honesty, I find the big firms like Cliquot make pretty boring wines at high prices. The best values in the Beckywassermanworld of Champagne are no secret, it is the Récoltant Manipulant (RM) brands (small producers making Champagne from their own grapes) that offer the most interesting wines at the best value. The trick is knowing which to pick from the dozens of RM labels, which are now being imported into the USA.

I was again faced with a selection of promising RM Champagnes, but not having tasted them all, I began turning the bottles around to find the name of the importer. On the back of one interesting bottle I found the reassuring words: “Becky Wasserman Selection”. I bought it immediately without another thought because I knew if Becky said it was good – it was good. I was rewarded with a delicious wine at half the price of some of the bigger guns on the shelf. In fact, not only was it half the price, it was twice the wine, making it a spectacular value. The wine: Champagne Camille Savès, Brut Rosé, Grand Cru Bouzy

As interesting as this bottle looked, I might have passed it over for a lesser wine, but for Becky’s name on the bottle. Certainly no name on a bottle is more important than the producer, but for imported wines the name of the importer or shipper is next in importance. While it is a daunting and impossible task to stay on top of all the top small domaine wines of Europe,  we are fortunate that there are people like Becky Wasserman who have devoted their lives to this quest. Their name on the bottle is a guarantee of high quality and, as there are only a handful people like Becky who are obsessed with quality, you don’t have to memorize the names of hundreds of estates, you just have to remember the names of a few passionate importers. Unfortunately it is a short list as few importers have the passion, patience or palate it takes to seek out the finest small wine estates.

When you see  “Becky Wasserman Selection” on a bottle, you can be absolutely assured you will get a bottle of wine with character and an expressive personality that reflects the vineyards where the wines were born. Becky’s selections will never be easy to find, but the wines that carry her signature were not easy to make. The winemakers worked hard to make them, Becky worked hard to find them and a little effort on your part will be required to drink them, but good wines never come easy and your efforts will be well rewarded.

 

VinExpo

VinexpoNo, not that VinExpo, but the Wine Expo of Santa Monica California. Perhaps “Expo” is not a good name for what they do there as it implies a gigantic wine exposition, which it is not. The Wine Expo is a small shop, although every inch is filled with wines worth drinking.

The Wine Expo is presided over by manager Roberto Rogness, whom you may also know as the nemesis of the anti-terroir Mark Squires on Robert Parker’s Forum. They have created a store that is filled with wines that have two things in common, they are labels almost nobody knows and they are outstanding wines. To top it off, they are great values.

They have accomplished this by hard work, creative thinking and the wise decision to not try to be all things to all people. The selection at the Wine Expo concentrates on two things: Italian wine and Champagne. Not that that is limiting, as Italian wine on its own is an overwhelming project. However, the store is not filled with the usual suspects: Antinori, Gaja, Giacosa, Krug, Cliquot and on-and-on….

What they have assembled are small producers, many of whom they import directly (another significant savings), who are dedicated to producing wines of character with pure flavors from varietal and vineyard. Oddly enough, their catalog physically looks a lot like The Wine Advocate, but one look at the wines selected and the commentary tells you that this is another world - and a more interesting one at that. Their Champagne selection is simply stunning, full of small estate producers and wines that sell for under $50 that blow away big name Champagne selling for hundreds of dollars. You can buy cases of Champagne here for the price of a few bottles at other stores.

Tonight I am sipping on the 1999 Bonarda, Oltrepo Pavese, Millennium from Azienda Agricola Fratelli Agnes. A bargain at $28, here is a wine that almost screams of its Italian origin, full of earthy aromas and flavors over bright fruit, with a racy acidity throughout, this is a wine that demands great food and pleasure. This is a wine I would never have known without the great work being done at The Wine Expo.

Get some guts and get on this mailing list and invest a few bucks in vineyards and names unknown, in people who make wine with passion, not Excel. Roberto will introduce you to a whole world of wine you did not know existed.

Wine Expo

2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404

310–828–4428 Fax 310–828–2969 Email: WineExpo@earthlink.net

The Schnook Side of Wine - Joe Dressner

“Let’s be reasonable. We have a three tier system here (in the U.S.A.). A wine that costs $9.99 retail usually leaves the vigneron’s cellar at $3.00 to $3.50. A producer wants to make $5.00 and everyone in the American trade considers him a thief! So the inclination in the trade is to buy from the cheapest sourcing out there to keep the prices low in the market and to turnover inventory. OK, wine distribution is not a non-profit business and we are looking to make money. But isn’t part of our responsibility to explain to our customers and to the public why it is worth paying something extra for good and great wine? Hopefully, the time will come when the buying public buys a wine for the quality of the wine and not for the perceived reputation of the AOC. Until that time, the abuse of the majority will dominate the vineyards of France and restrict what we are able to get into the hands of consumers. Let’s work together to try to turn this situation around.” — Joe Dressner

Joe Dressner sells wine. Obviously, he is not a normal wine salesman.

In his almost famous, “Three Tier Schnook System”, Dressner writes:

“My Thursday’s salesmanship highlight, was trying to convince two dead men who buy wine for an important retailer in Maryland to buy the Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Blanc. Despite the numerous amusing anecdotes I told the dead men about the vignerons, they rejected the wine on the grounds it was too acidic. But they greatly enjoyed the Corbieres Chateau la Baronne Rouge 1999 and immediately ordered a large quantity that will be case stacked at their important store. The dead is a market segment I want to learn more about in the future, as I see my firm has enormous growth possibilities with this important group. On the other hand, we are not doing well amongst the far more numerous Schnooks.”

Most wine-sales types would consider such public comments tantamount to suicide. Maybe Dressner has chosen a suicidal route, as he has chosen to commit himself to two things: selecting wines defined by the essence of their terroir, and telling the truth no matter how much it hurts.

It seems that Joe has a problem when it comes to business: he only likes exceptional wines. “I have to work harder, but so what,” says Joe Dressner four coronary bypasses later.

Joe Dressner is partners with his wife, Denyse Louis (a native Burgundian), and Kevin McKenna. Together they comprise Louis/Dressner Selections, the New York-based importer of French estate wines that matter. Contrary to what most people think, Louis Dressner is not a person. “I have had people come up to me and say I bought wine from your father Louis,” says Joe.

As Dressner calls it they sell real wine. Real wine is made by the following principles:

  • Wild yeast fermentation
  • Hand harvesting
  • Low yields
  • Natural viticulture
  • No or minimal chaptalization
  • No filtration
  • Non-interventionist winemaking
  • Quality control

While these may seem like the basic rules in fine winemaking to you and me, they border on lunacy in the case-driven world of wine sales. The result of this “consumer bill of rights” is that the wines of Louis/Dressner are individualistic wines with a dynamic personality — just like Joe. Sometimes they may rub people the wrong way, but they are never boring.

The Muscadet from Domaine de la Pepiere is an excellent example of the wines Dressner selects. “Marc Ollivier has 40- to 90-year-old vineyards, top vineyard spots, perfect geology, he does not over-fertilize — he is the guardian of a natural resource. When Marc is on, these are the top wines of the AOC — wines that are not only delicious young, but that can also age 10, 20, or 30 years,” says Dressner. A claim that will raise the eyebrows of many who assume Muscadet can at best produces a tart wine to wash down oysters.

Dressner has a deep commitment to the wines of the Loire, offering no less than a dozen producers — and that’s only AOC Touraine. This is not a strategy that would be followed by many importers. In all, Louis/Dressner imports over 60 French estates each producing wines with a distinct individuality made by a producer committed to quality.

With so many small, artistically driven producers it is likely that from time to time they’ll come up with a unique barrel that cries to be bottled in its own right. That’s where “Cuvee Buster” comes into the picture. “I didn’t want a pretentious name so we called it after our dog — he’s funny looking and I wanted to poke a little fun at grandiose labeling,” observed Dressner. If you find a Cuvee Buster Selection, grab it. They are special bottlings of selections of less than 50 cases and they give the consumer a unique taste of what’s possible when economic concerns are thrown to the wind.

Louis/Dressner offers consumers an informative Web site at www.louisdressner.com, but true to his nature, Joe Dressner takes it one step further by offering his own personal site where he can offer observations and insights that would be perhaps politically incorrect on the official company site. At The Wine Importer (www.datamantic.com/joedressner) Joe offers up some of the wittiest observations on the wine industry you’ll find anywhere. Sometimes he even offers contests for readers, with free cases of wine or baseball tickets for the callers with the right answers — sort of an Internet take on radio promos.

While all this seems fun and lighthearted, there can be no doubting the seriousness of Joe Dressner’s commitment to growers that are dedicated to quality and to finding ways to bring those wines to American consumers. Louis /Dressner selections are worth a search.

Oh, there is one last thing Louis/Dressner requires of wines: “Enjoyment! Lastly, our most important ‘principle.’ Because the overblown world of overdone wines is fundamentally tiresome. We’re not looking for tasting specimens, but for wines that are great fun, and a great pleasure to drink.”

Mission accomplished.

Europvin - look for it on the label

THE ROOM is full of people -- standing room only. In front of the room is a conservatively dressed gentleman speaking a little too softly to be easily heard. Each head leans forward to catch every quiet word. There seems to be a wisdom in his tone and an attitude that is somehow reassuring.

Christopher Cannan is a stranger in a strange land. In a quasi-religion filled with huge egos and blatant self-promotion, he is a rare being. He is humble and a true gentleman who makes his choices based on honesty and integrity. Believe it or not, Christopher Cannan sells wine.

He is a true believer and that aura touches all who encounter him. The question is how does he do it? All around him lesser mortals have given up the true faith to follow the almighty dollar, pound, or Euro. How did such an honest and quiet gentleman become one of the most important names you can look to for reliable bottles of wine from France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy?

Cannan was born in Gloucestershire, England, in 1949 and received his early education in the UK, followed by further studies in Switzerland, Germany, and Spain that gave him a good knowledge of the French, German, and Spanish languages. He did a brief stint in the insurance industry, but his love of the grape soon led him to the wine business. With the help of the London based importer, Percy Fox & Co., he spent most of 1970 traveling to all the main wine producing areas of Europe, earning his keep by working in cellars and vineyards. The areas visited included Bordeaux, the Loire, Champagne, Germany, Alsace, Burgundy, Sherry, and Oporto. This was followed by experience with some of the more famous wine shippers of the time, Louis Eschenauer and Frederick Wildman. When Wildman closed its Bordeaux office in 1978, Cannan set off on his own and created Europvin, based in Bordeaux.

Today Europvin/Christopher Cannan Selections ships wines to 36 different countries and in the US delivers wines to 32 states. Cannan has assembled a telephone-book-size portfolio of the finest estates of Europe that only excludes the Germanic countries. Cannan's accomplishment in assembling such a portfolio is unmatched by any importer. However, what is truly amazing about his huge catalogue is the unbelievable quality level that he is able to present his clients in all price ranges.

Cannan's supreme accomplishment is to be able to deliver such high quality over such a broad spectrum of wines, a feat that has never been matched by anyone. So why isn't Cannan more famous? There can be only one answer: In an industry full of blowhards, Cannan's quiet quality is easy to overlook. Dedication, honesty, and a passion for wines that beautifully reflect the soils that created them are just not as cool as the lastest 90+ point wine in The Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate.

That's not to say Cannan's wines don't get top reviews. They most certainly do, especially from Robert Parker. But Cannan's quiet style, which is reflected in his staff, always seems to generate press attention full of respect but lacking in bombast -- kind of like having your wines reviewed deep in the Wall Street Journal while other wines get the New York Post front page treatment.

Seemingly using the same Stealth technology as the US Air Force, Cannan has quietly assembled a dynamic portfolio that includes:

- The best of Spain, including Lustau Sherry, Vega Sicilia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Maruo, Bodegas Lena, Clos Mogador, Clos Martinet, Gran Clos, Cims de Porrera, and Belondrade Y Lurton

- Some of the most creative new wines in Portugal: Luis Pato, De Zellaer's Ports, and all the wines of Cristiano Van Zeller

- The incredible Tokaji wines of Oremus in Hungary

- Exceptional Italian estates including: Az. Ag. San Fereolo-Dogliani, Fattoria Zerbina-Emilia Romagna, and Riecine in Chianti Classico

- A list of French wines that is incredibly complete and deep including truly wonderful wines produced by: Champagne Pierre Gimmonet, Domaine Paul Ginglinger-Alsace, Domaine Pinson-Chablis, Domaine Anne Gros-Vosne Romanee, Hubert Montille-Volnay, Alain Graillot-Tain l'Hermitage, Mark Sorrel-Hermitage, Auguste Clape-Cornas, Chateau Pibarnon-Bandol, Domaine Sarda-Malet-Roussillon, Jean Max Roger-Sancerre, and a complete selection of all levels of Bordeaux including Grand Cru Classe and petite chateaux

What more could you want? Yet all this was not enough for Cannan, who apparently is only quiet on the surface. In the late 1990's he invested in the Priorat (Priorato) region of Spain and became both a negociant and producer of wine from his own estate. In 1999 he launched the Laurona label, along with partner Rene Barbier, which is produced from purchased grapes selected from old vine Garnacha and Cariñena vines located outside of the Priorat D.O. With the 2000 vintage he released his first wines from his own vineyard. A total of 7000 bottles of Clos Figueres and Font de la Figuera (his second label) were made by Rene Barbier at his famous Clos Mogador winery and released last year. Laurona may be one of the best values being produced in Spain today, and the first release of Clos Figueres was received with acclaim by journalists and consumers throughout the world.

The year 2003 marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of Europvin/Christopher Cannan selections. During this quarter century, Cannan has made the purple Europvin label on the back of your bottle really mean something: it is his guarantee of quality; each bottle labeled with his name reflects a level of commitment to excellence and high ethical standards rarely seen in any industry. Whenever you see his label you can be sure of getting a bottle of wine worthy of your attention and your money.

Christopher Cannan may not make much noise, but sometimes silence can be golden.

Wines from the Salthouse

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Doug Salthouse did very well in his former business. So well that he is well acquainted with the world's most famous wines. Not only has he drunk them, he has visited them. He is at home with Lafite, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Vega Sicilia and Gaja. So how did he become one of the finest retail sources for wines that have modest prices, but big character and loads of complexity.

 

I met Doug several years ago on his visit to the Piedmont region of Italy to research the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. I knew right away he was a kindred soul when it came to wine and food. This was an unfortunate event for our spouses, who we eventually pushed over the line.

 

With his former business out of the way, Doug took the plunge and purchased a wine and liquor store in New Jersey and Smart Buy Wines and Spirits was born. Doug, of course, offers all the heavy hitters of the wine world, but what makes this store special is that Doug has taken his well-developed and sophisticated palate and applied it to discovering a tremendous selection of wines selling for under $25.00 - many less than that.

 

Several months ago I asked Doug to send me an assorted case a month, a kind of impromptu monthly wine club. The results have been a long list of really exceptional wines that are real bargains. It reminds me of when I started buying wine thirty years ago and it was easy to find great bottles for under $20.00.

 

You can find many of these wines (and some of the more expensive wines too) in Doug's e-newsletter. You can subscribe to this educational newsletter by visiting www.smartbuywines.com.  I have also started an ongoing thread of my tasting notes on Doug's wine selections that you can find here:

 

http://winecampblog.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=5

 

Real wine merchants that rely on their own palates and opinions have become increasingly rare in this age of wines-sold-on-points, but Doug's selection are based on his own convictions as to what makes wine so fascinating. I can't wait for the next shipment.

 

Smart Buy Wines and Spirits

102 Linwood Plaza, Fort Lee, NJ 07024

Phone: (201) 242-WINE (9463)  Fax: (201) 242-9601

Montecastelli Selections

montecastellijens.jpgThe room is packed with wine lovers clutching oversized wine glasses. Behind each of the dozen or so tables covered with wine bottles stands an Italian winemaker busily pouring their wines into the mob of outstretched glasses in front of them and trying explain in their best English their vinous creations. Through the crowd darts the energetic and passionate Jens Schmidt, owner of Montecastelli Selections. Each of these producers are part of the Montecastelli portfolio - his selections. Jens seems to be at every table at once as he tries to convey his passion for these wines to each of the consumers attending.

The sold-out tasting is at Sam's Wine Warehouse in Chicago, one of the world's largest fine wine retailers. It is not easy for new importers to get their wines into such a high profile store, but almost the entire Montecastelli catalog is represented on the wine racks at Sam's - a tribute to their quality and the sharp palates of Sam's Wine Director Todd Hess and Italian Buyer Greg Smolik (since departed to form his own interesting wine importing company). Hess and Smolik are looking over the crowd at the tasting with satisfaction as each guest departs with shopping carts laden with the delicious Montecastelli wines. Their customers are sure to return for more as these wines will taste even better at the dinner table.

Jens and Ruth Schmidt have come a long way in a very short time. Montecastelli was only founded in 1997 and their American importing company was born in 2002, yet they have established themselves with some of America's most demanding retail buyers and are distributed in 22 states. They have accomplished this with only two tools: a dedication to quality and old-fashioned hard work. Montecastelli is the name of their home and farm in Tuscany where they have restored an 11th century monastery. Here they produce their excellent olive oil and have also established a lovely agriturismo. They are living in reality what so many thousands only dream about.

One thing that is certain when tasting through this portfolio is that all of the wines are absolutely delicious to drink. They are modern wines, yet they pay homage to traditional winemaking and never let modern methods overwhelm the integrity of the vineyard. Jens describes his palate in this way, "Technically speaking I value cleanliness, fruit and natural balance of acidity. I disapprove of even only small amounts of Bret (brettanomyces-a winemaking fault that is sometimes considered acceptable in small amounts), oxidization and lack of acidity. However in our wines I am looking for more: To make things unique I always look for character and integrity. Integrity is the combination of the vintners approach and individuality confronted with the things in nature he cannot change: history, climate and soil type. Character is emerging as a unique expression of the vintner findings over time and his ability to listen and taste."

Indeed each wine in the Montecastelli portfolio is a wine of character.